You know the cereal dust left in the bottoms of the bags after the last Cheerio or Mini Wheat has been excavated and added to a bowl of milk? I used to roll it all up inside the bag and throw it away. Isn’t that what everyone does? I mean, what else are you going to do with that stuff?
For me, that last question has become less rhetorical than it once may have been. In fact, the whole concept of waste has taken on a different dimension these past months, and though I’m naturally predisposed to avoid basically every kind of waste, as the weeks comprising March and April unfolded, the urgency of “making use” loomed larger than usual. This inclination is as old as time, of course; some of the most innovative and resourceful civilizations live by the practice, if not the necessity, of making full and complete use of what’s at hand. The notion of “nose to tail” (or “fin to scale”), by which we utilize every part of the animals that die for the sake of feeding us, is a beautiful thing. Not only does it dignify the loss of life and glorify the being incarnate now departed, it makes a whole lot of sense from the standpoint of economy. With plant-based matter, this can hold true too–why compost the corn husks after shucking if you can dry them flat and see what happens when you take some magic markers to their corrugated surface? (Pair this with a lesson on papyrus!) Why ditch that bag of stale Pirate’s Booty when you can use some dental floss to string it up like popcorn? (Pair this with a lesson on threading a needle and tying a double-looped knot!)
“Making use” can feel like a titillating challenge, if you’re at all like I am, by kindling the question “How can I manipulate this (whatever it is) to make it appealing and/or useful?” For example: Babybel cheese wax? Let’s make candles and learn how to strike a match. Clam shells left over from linguine night? We’ll bleach them and paint them and hang them on the Christmas tree. Coconut husks? Let’s drill holes, plant succulents inside, and hang them from a tension rod hung inside a window frame. Flannel nursing pads that never stayed in place and then wrinkled impossibly in the dryer? A little spray starch and a hot iron will turn those bad boys into throw rugs for the dollhouse. Carrot greens left over from making crudités? Pesto, presto!
It’s this mentality that’s caused me to bake things like kiwi bread (which I think is delicious, by the way) and mustard green and artichoke dip. It’s prompted me to try pulverizing freeze-dried fruit to use in place of cocoa powder, to blitz freeze-dried shiitakes and cauliflower for breading chicken tenderloins. It’s inspired me to write recipes like Laughing Cow Cheese Soup and Zucchini Potato Chip Frittata. All of this is a great exercise in creativity and prudence, and I appreciate that, but at times it feels like pressure to ensure that as little as possible goes to waste. “Waste not, want not” isn’t a watertight adage by any means, but maybe that’s a little bit of what’s behind all this; in a time when we have so many unmet wants with the onus of knowing that our kids do too, while we’re all in a constant state of energetic helplessness, we funnel a whole lot of effort into purposing and repurposing. It’s a microcosmic way that our brains and bodies can cooperate to impose some order, to make sense of things in a phase of time clothed in uncertainty: maybe, just maybe, by eliminating some waste we can eliminate some wants. True, the corollary of a theorem rarely proves out, but still: there’s no harm in finding a nutcracker to see if we can germinate those apricot pits; no harm in sautéing backyard-foraged clover for a pizza topping (Liam loved it!); no harm in crafting a fleet of eggshell sailboats, painting the calciferous hulls with expired nail polish, and staging regatta races from one side of the creek bridge to the other.
This brings us to my first installment of “Heal Thy Meal” (see top banner for my page on this!), which I’ve named Trash Treats (they’re Rice Krispie Treats but call for that aforementioned cereal dust in place of Rice Krispies):
(makes about 12)
4 tbsp salted butter (or use unsalted and add a few grinds of salt)
6 ½ cups miniature marshmallows
~6 c. cereal dust from the bags of assorted cereals (shredded wheat, Kix, Crispix, Cheerios, Special K, Cornflakes, etc.)
Grease a 9-13 in. casserole dish or spray with cooking spray. Melt butter in large pot over medium heat. Add marshmallows and stir until melted. Cut the stove and add the cereals. Mix to combine and press into casserole dish with buttered fingers, then cool slightly and cut into squares, or roll into balls with buttered hands while still warm (as in photo). Serving suggestion: pair with a glass of milk. (Or, for the adults in the room, might I recommend a chilled cup of eggnog?)